The Books Briefing: The Many Sides of Identity

Works that illuminate the intricacies of how we form communities and relate to one another: Your weekly guide to the best in books

A collage of different people
John Whitlock

In 1983, the historian Benedict Anderson published his pioneering work Imagined Communities, which looks at the intangible factors that bond nations together. His analysis was prescient, thanks to the expansive lens it took in examining what unites people, and the book still helps deepen considerations of modern issues, such as the importance of a representative Pride flag. This nuanced way of looking at sweeping and complex questions about community and identity animates The Atlantic’s newly launched section, America in Person.

Identity is sometimes falsely conceived of as one-dimensional. In truth, the communities we form and the ways we relate to people are deeply intricate. Many, for example, lump Latinos into one progressive monolith—a move that ignores the group’s diversity. The story grows more complicated when one considers that Latino Americans are actually the United States’ fastest-growing group of evangelicals, a phenomenon that the scholars Aida Ramos, Gerardo Martí, and Mark Mulder write about in Latino Protestants in America.

This broad way of looking at identity leads to a similarly wide-ranging vision of what the future might hold. W. E. B. Du Bois looked ahead at the end of his autobiography, writing that “our children must rebuild” the world. Centuries later, so did the theorist José Muñoz, when he imagined queerness as futurity in his book Cruising Utopia. These works are hopeful, helping us imagine a better life—whether that means finding a way to celebrate Juneteenth while acknowledging the pain wrought by slavery or delighting in the joy of queer sex after mass vaccinations.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.

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What We’re Reading

A band playing at a church service

Arlene Mejorado

The fastest-growing group of American evangelicals
“Across the United States, more Latino pastors are founding churches than ever before, a trend that challenges conventional views of evangelicalism and could have massive implications for the future of American politics.”

A collage with images from queer culture

Pedro Nekoi

The surprising innovations of pandemic-era sex
“The past year and a half of sexual distancing, online intimacy, and exploration of pleasures has been a rehearsal for a yet-to-be-imagined queer sexual ecosystem.”

Joe Biden signs a bill

Carlos Barria / Reuters

What the push to celebrate Juneteenth conceals
“As long as our holidays are unaccompanied by the learning, or relearning, of hard truths, superficial symbols will remain the dominant markers of memory, absent of history.”

Pride flags

Getty / The Atlantic

The Pride flag has a representation problem
“Flags are political symbols, borrowed from the vocabulary of nationalism, with similar overtones of citizenship, belonging, borders.”

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she’s reading next is Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner.

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